The Value of Libraries

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert” – Andrew Carnegie

My local library is a hive of activity with a bustling cafe attached, a used book sale area, and a busy downstairs where almost every table is occupied by 10am with people working on laptops, reading newspapers, or logging on to the free wifi on the row of public computers available. Upstairs, there is wonderful children’s section with story time and other parent-children activities, and meeting rooms that hold an array of community events and speakers. I remain thankful that my local community and government values a library such as ours because in many other places, the very existence of community libraries is under threat. In the UK for example, nearly 500 libraries have closed since 2010 and many libraries are now being run by volunteers due to budgetary costs and restrictions. The results of this are heartbreaking, especially since, by many accounts library use is actually on the increase (see The Guardian’s report on library closures here).

After seeing posts on Twitter about the rise in volunteer-run libraries in England, I began to think more carefully about what libraries mean to me and my community. They are more than just a place to borrow books or DVDs or CDs – for some it’s a safe, warm, place to read or study, for others it may be a way to find social connection in their lives, and for some people it might be their only way of accessing the internet (which could be crucial in terms of a job search or education). The more I thought about libraries, the more I realized how lucky I was to have such a fantastic one in my community.

Growing up in Australia, our local library was really my only source of research (yes, this was in the dark ages before the internet) and it was a family outing to go there to borrow books or to get material needed for dreaded homework assignments. Now, although I can access much of my book research online, I still find myself drawn to my local library – and I’m frequently seen laden down with books as I struggle back to my car. Our library recently updated their online ebook lending system (the app is called Libby) which makes it easy to borrow ebooks and download them to my Kindle. So for me the library has immediate, work related value, in that it enables me to undertake research without completely draining my bank account:) For my twin boys, the library is still their ‘go to’ place for books and they have discovered many new series and authors simply by making a decision to try something new (no risk as no money was expended!).  For many others, the library provides intangible benefits too – offering a means of attaining social mobility, self-improvement and providing opportunities to reach beyond the limitations of social or economic class.

Still, I wonder in this day and age whether people still value libraries the way I do – so I was heartened to read the American Library Association’s annual report (which you can view here) that indicates that American libraries are still receiving the funding and attention they deserve (though that’s not to say there aren’t still challenges or threats to that!).

So TKZers, I’d love to know what libraries mean to you. Do you still visit your local community library on a regular basis? What do you think is the value of a library today?


31 thoughts on “The Value of Libraries

  1. My hometown library was huge for a small town. A lot of writers live there and more come there to write books. It was a social place. “Be quiet!” was never said there. Conversation was about books, about writing, concerns about patrons who hadn’t been seen in a while. The librarian knew every book and where it was. I swear she read them all.

    I haven’t been to a library in years. The libraries where I live now are cranky fiefdoms where I am perpetually in trouble (my cell phone rang once, I said “good morning” to someone because I am a Southerner and that is what we do). I am still on the outs with one library because their book drop leaked during a rain storm and they wanted me to replace the book I returned there (on time).

    My mom was a librarian. She was never cranky to anyone. People were the lifeblood of any group to her. Readers, writers, she welcomed them all with a smile and a helpful spirit.

    These days I check everything out through Overdrive. I don’t sully their hallowed presence with smiles and hellos and there is no leaky book drop to go to war over. Thank God.

    If libraries are closing, it may be their own fault.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had such a cranky library experience in recent years. My local library is very much like your hometown one – friendly, welcoming, and relaxed. I couldn’t believe I was allowed to take my cup of coffee downstairs and drink it while I wrote on my laptop! Although it isn’t a loud place, it is a place where easy conversations are encouraged and they have lots of small rooms available downstairs for people to book if they need complete quiet. Here’s hoping your library can return to a more nurturing environment one day!

    • I’m so sorry you’ve been treated like that and assume this person and situation is an exception. I work (read love going in to assist people share my love of books) in a small rural Australian town. Our patrons often come for a chat or to get assistance and information while collecting their books. We love our library and our patrons are really appreciative to have access to pretty much anything they need with our help. It’s seen as a vital service here.

  2. I think you laid out the value of libraries very well in your article. Thanks for the memories.

    I was a rural kid and enjoyed both my school library and the bookmobile when it came around. Today I live in a small town where there is no public library. I very seldom visit the library in the next town (10 miles away) because I have no need to do so.

  3. I don’t visit the library in person nearly as much any more because I check out as much as I can via Kindle books (convenience, adjustable font) but I would never want the library to disappear. I definitely don’t go there to socialize (I have to be around people enough as it is. I’m always looking for hermit time). When I am doing research, the library is irreplaceable. The subjects I like info on typically don’t have Kindle-version access.

    It doesn’t help that library hours have been reduced. They are only open 10a-8p Monday-Thursday, and only till 5p on Fridays, so if the library is on your list of errands weeknights or you want to relax at the library on Friday night, you can forget about it. They are completely closed on Sundays. I don’t mind any business being closed on Sundays, but it does make getting to the library in this crazy world harder.

    I have utilized them to attend courses offered to the community (Dave Ramsey one time, a retirement info shop another time). One thing I like to take advantage of is requesting books for library pick up. It makes it easier with their limited hours to have the books ready to go when you get there.

    The one grumbly point I have not only with libraries but with historical society archives is the extremely limited hours of access to the rare books room and archives (far more limited than regular hours). I understand the budget cuts, but if you’re a working stiff, that pretty much guarantees you’re hardly ever going to have an opportunity to do any in depth research. Even if I could afford to pay someone to do the research for me, I don’t want other people doing my research. But that’s the state of things right now.

    • We are really lucky that our local library has expansive hours – it’s even open on a Sunday after 1pm. Budget cuts place a lot of stress on the library system but I agree that when it comes to research I want to do it myself -so when a library’s hours makes that almost impossible it is frustrating as well as sad.

  4. My parents tell everyone we had to move when I was twelve because I’d finished the local library. (To be honest, it was the kid’s section; I hadn’t made a lot of headway into the larger adult side of the library).

    Our county library system is only 2 branches, and collections are small, so I get most of my books via their statewide system by requesting them on line, but when I pick them up and drop them off, there’s always something going on. Kid programs, people using the computers. I can’t imagine a world without libraries.

    • Our system also connects statewide so you can get almost anything you want (though for obscure historical books I usually have to hunt online for used books instead). I’m constantly amazed at the level of activity at our local library – I can get there at 10am on a Wednesday and it will be packed!

  5. We have a good local library, at the moment. I am so glad it is modern and well used, fingers crossed it will survive. But I do miss the quiet of the old style library, especially the wood-panelled reading room.

    • Our library was remodeled a few years ago so it is very modern too – but cozy – but still, there’s nothing quite like an old fashioned reading room with wood panels and leather chairs:)

  6. Our library is fabulous. It has great parking, free coffee, nice reading chairs, and an easy-to-navigate, online catalog. (Did I mention the free coffee?) I can borrow library e-books from home, too. And they have a big conference room where our neighborhood holds info meetings.

    Another library in the same county hosts our writers’ group. They have free coffee, too.:-)

    I don’t THINK my mom reads this blog, so it’s safe to type here: I made a donation in my mother’s name to her library for Christmas. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers who already have too many books weighing down the living room book shelves!

    • Free coffee! Wow! Ours does a mean latte but it’ll cost you:) A donation is such a fabulous gift idea too – I made one for my parents at the British Library once and you get to choose a book to ‘adopt’ which I loved!

  7. Excellent post, Clare.

    At Book Expo last summer, I learned how helpful librarians can be to authors. The American Library Association (ALA) had a large contingent from all over the country. They toted home bags of ARCs. They were attentive at panel discussions by authors and followed up by ordering their books. Some invited authors to make personal appearances at their branches.

    B/c authors focus is much on marketing to readers/consumers, we may overlook libraries as a source of sales. If a librarian gets behind your book, s/he will tell colleagues, resulting in orders from a large number of libraries. Each branch may only order one copy but multiply that by a hundred or a thousand branches and that adds up to significant numbers.

    When I got home from Book Expo, I immediately visited branches in my area and found librarians are happy to support local authors. I plan to set up appearances.

    Librarians are great friends to both readers and authors.

    • Thanks for sharing this Debbie – I must admit I never thought enough about librarians supporting authors until I was published and did some great panels and speaking events at local libraries in California. Librarians are an amazing support group!

  8. I do not get to the library like I used to. I buy more books. But the library is still integral to my community. It’s meeting rooms are always booked. The overstuffed chairs on the main floor full and in a world where “everyone” has a computer in their pocket, the library computers are in constant use.

    My children loved story time in the library. One of my classmates who now lives out of town posted pictures of his daughter reading in the corner where we once did our homework. It is a magical place.

  9. The Cuyahoga County Public Library, with its twenty-nine branches (surrounding Cleveland) is what may keep my wife and me living here despite the sun being so rare that it frightens little children when it comes out.

    Even though the library itself is not a research library, we have access to research libraries across the state through OhioLINK and Search Ohio. And when we order something online, it’s to our local branch in two to three days. This is better than the inter-library loan service at many colleges.

    The South Euclid branch has a writing center that is amazing in its resources and programming. Once a week I drive past three other branches to spend a day working there. (

    All the branches are heavily patronized and they fill up with kids after school.

    As a kid I regularly walked a mile or so into Paterson, to the North Main Street branch to check out an armfull of books. I remember being too embarrassed to check out Zane Grey books because they were listed as “romances.” How that word’s meaning has changed.

  10. I’m lucky: I live in an area where libraries are routinely upgraded and constructed though bond issues that always pass. People here (the DC Metro area) appreciate the libraries’ value.

    I personally think libraries are what separates us from the other animals. Only humans have to ability to transfer knowledge without personal interaction. My library makes available to me knowledge ranging from Socrates to Richard Feynman to Ricky Jay. One can’t ask for more than that.

  11. I’ve learned the value of libraries more since I’ve become an adult because the library in my hometown was too far for me to walk to and unfortunately, not frequented by my parents. Our local library is wonderful and offers events for children as well as hosts book clubs. The head librarian and research department head is very accommodating for local authors as well, and will order my books as soon as they release. The library belongs to the county’s network, so she sends out emails about my new releases to other libraries in the system. Last year, she took my idea to host a local authors and artists event during the fall, and this year expanded it. I believe it will continue to grow each year.

  12. I have said here previously that my Dad was a librarian, and I grew up in his library.

    Books, A-V materials (received when a nearby WWII Japanese internment camp was closed down near the end of the War), magazines, and research archives were my playground through grade school and high school, and then the university libraries.

    Libraries are still a valued thing to me, and, as well, a way to still connect to my Dad.

    It’s sad to me that, as we think of going to Mars, there will never be a library there that is as good as the one my Dad ran and labored over. There may be research materials, digital copies of millions and millions of books, references, and so much other available through the 0s and 1s from earth, but there will never be a library like we have here.

    That would make me want to turn around and cancel the trip.

  13. My favorite memory of a library is the one in West Chicago where I used to take our son when he was a toddler. I can still remember the look of delight on his face as he selected books and piled them up in my arms until we reached our quota.

    When we got home, we would always perform the same ritual: I would ask “Which book would you like me to read to you before your nap?” He would throw his arms up in the air and shout “Let’s read them ALL!”

    Our son is long since grown and gone, and I use Libby for most of my library reading, but the memory of those special days is very dear to me.

  14. From a very early age, my favorite thing to do was to go to the library. It used to be right across the street from the post office and it was the highlight of the day when I would get my weekly book from the children’s book club as well as checking out books to the limit. I could never get enough. Now my eyesight makes it hard for me to read physical books. My eyes get tired very easily so now I order Kindle books from the library and from Amazon. I have about 3,042 unread books on my Kindle and always get more. I don’t get to the library often but I would hate for them to not be there. I have to go soon to renew my library card and I look forward to the trip.

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  16. My local/county library in Missoula, Montana, rocks! A few months ago ground was broken for a brand new building across the street from the existing building. The new building will be spectacular. I have nearly a daily interaction with our library. The new structure will include just about everything you can imagine plus more. Sure there are homeless folks who hang out there. Mostly they act accordingly: reading, using computers, chatting. So what?

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